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Heathrow’s expansion plan mired by trust issues at public consultation

Posted: December 5th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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This Wednesday the Heathrow Park Inn Hotel hosted the Airports Commission’s most recent public consultation on the proposed plans for expanding Heathrow Airport. Local MPs, councillors, campaigners and businessmen gave speeches expressing a range of views regarding the plans, some in support of an expansion and others in vehement opposition.

Headed by Sir Howard Davis, the Airports Commission has been charged with identifying the best course of action for dealing with Britain’s supposed need for a hub airport to compete with other European airports. The panel was presented with the two proposals relevant to this area: a proposal from Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) for a third runway to the northwest of the airport, and independent promoter Heathrow Hub’s rival proposal to lengthen the North runway. These sit alongside a third option to expand Gatwick, due for public consultation later this month.

The panel listened as local MPs John McDonnell and Zac Goldsmith drew attention to the huge scale of the affect an expansion would have on people living in West London. An estimated 4000 homes would be either demolished or rendered unliveable, leading to the break-up of local communities, and hundreds of thousands of people more would be directly affected by greater noise levels and pollution.

HAL CEO John Holland-Kaye’s many promises of fairly mitigating the harms that future generations will face from an expanded Heathrow airport were brought into doubt by Christine Taylor of Stop Heathrow Expansion, who drew attention to HAL’s statement from the Terminal 5 inquiry in 1999 that a third runway should be “ruled out forever”. Moreover, HAL has consistently failed to address the problem of air quality despite pollution levels being higher than EU regulations. The assumptions behind their advertising campaigns’ assurance that Heathrow’s expansion would boost Britain’s economy by £100 billion have been seriously questioned in an independent report by Prime Economics.

Commission Hearing Heathrow

Last week an article in the Sunday Times accused the interest group Back Heathrow of “astroturfing”, feigning to be a grassroots residents organisation representing local people yet funded in the £100,000s by Heathrow. Gatwick Airport’s chairman, Sir Roy McNulty, has accused the group of scaremongering by suggesting in a questionnaire distributed to 750,000 households that without expansion Heathrow would close, as reported on Wednesday in both The Guardian and The Telegraph. In the commission hearing Zac Goldsmith also commented on HAL’s smear campaign against councillor Ray Puddifoot, accusing Heathrow of funding a campaign to undermine the democratic process. When asked by John McDonnell if Heathrow would cease funding of Back Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye avoided giving a definitive answer.

During the consultation climate change was low on the agenda, with only one mention that carbon emissions were relevant to the discussion. The UK Climate Change Act requires legally binding reductions in greenhouse gases, yet increasing air traffic will seriously undermine the aviation industry’s commitment to this goal. In a desire to stimulate debate about the true viability of airport expansion, two environmental activists from Plane Stupid held up a banner from the hotel entrance canopy that read ‘Any new runway is Plane Stupid’, as reported in the local Uxbridge Gazette.